gringo tijuanense Tur Info
Part Two :
PASSING THROUGH this valley in 1769, changing California from wild to colony, Junípero Serra might have written a note in his diary:
The "good water" was the Tijuana river. She is fundamental to understanding this town and the world around it. The river created Tijuana valley, gave it the first fresh water of life. She made us humans choose her in our path north or south into and out of the peninsula. Between the mountains and the ocean swamps, she has opened the road to the other side, her side. These latter years, when the modern world imposes its regime of empires and nation states, she has found herself flushed with sewage, traversed by desperate migrants sneaking around the border patrol — la migra — as she gets pressed further forward onto the line of change between twin worlds. Her mouth, and salt brine lagoons beside the sea, is now an extensive nature reserve just across the line (on the U.S. side), near the metal border fence plunging into the sea.
The river also gives her name to a new, booming part of town: la zona río, where the night-time partying gets intense these days. Before oil-money urban renewal of the late 70s and 80s, when the river still ran free across her flood plain, all the area was a squatters' town from the 40s through the 60s, popularly called "Cardboardland" — Cartolandia. It stretched upstream from the old highway bridge. People say the fires every few years were phenomenal. But No More. That's all gone (but if you know where to look you can still see bits and pieces around the edges, little old houses tucked away behind fences, looking very strange amidst the rush and roar and boom – one was pointed out to us behind the Tacos Franc parking lot on Sanchez Taboada near 7th).
The river meanwhile has been forced into a concrete trench with levees on both sides, and many many surrounding new blocks of restaurants, condos, apartments, office blocks, hotels, offices, shopping mall and minimals, and the big museum/theater/gallery/omnimax complex of CECUT.
The original nature of the river? She comes like every other stream in this greater world of California. Flowing down from sacred mountains toward the sea, passes through jagged canyons, and then broad, flat valleys where hills come close on every side. In these valleys, on this coast, our cities squat down a million homes and shops around her belly, her thighs, her arms and face. We human beings have turned the river into a filthy, polluted beast, flushing our toilets and dumping [
Every night the fires of immigrants lick against her fence, her wall, her cement channel. Every day the police cars chase drug addicts and thieves up and down her no man's land of stinking garbage and sewer water ditch. Every tourist or worker or deported Mexican who walks from the border gate into downtown crosses over her weeping stretch, where the little beggar girl screams "Cielito Lindo" on a wretched toy guitar. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT. Easy to walk there, and, actually fairly safe — if you stay to the pedestrian bridge and new sidewalks where courteous tourist police patrol. Come on down.
That is the river, today, tonight, tomorrow, the same end in the burning dead sea. Yes I exaggerate you get the picture, somewhere on the coast of California. She is not alone. In parallel dimensions of string theory there are secret passageways and tunnels between here and Ciudad Juarez, El Paso. See: here is the floorwalker. Here is her picture with our line drawn on it. Here is her valley, and back there, her other valleys, canyons, mountains... see, it all belongs to her, she is mistress of the world, earth, land. She is the river.
there are floors available
Up there, at the sources of the rivers that are in California, in the mountain meadows and forest slopes, up there is a single moment between the ocean and the desert. All the winds and forces from those two worlds of salt and sand can beat and beatify the rocks and trees and animals with weather, always weather, burning hot sun or screaming wet cold.
On the other side of the mountains, you will find the beginning of the great American desert, whose name in Spanish is Sonora. The impossible railroad rises from the east at dawn from that desert (we do not lie our lay) through gorges portrayed here in hypereality. The impossible railroad used to run from here to there, yes, that was true, it did). )()()()()(
For a while, for a place, for a time, the Tijuana river follows the watershed - not that jagged canyon, but one something like it, and Nostrendamus says the railroad will follow it again, as well as this canyon perhaps when planets align and hurricanes do not destroy it all over again no. You can see one almost this bad and wild by driving out the toll road cuota to Tecate from farthest Otay. It is quite a splendid drive, into the savage Alamar canyon, toward the Cottonwood feet of Tecate Peak.
On the coast, as all men know, all women see, a river is life, a river is water, and a river seeks the sea.
It still runs half stinking from the holy mountain to the western, south sea, where rocks and sand meet one last stretch of bay, beach, and coast, here before the deserts of our south devour the bight of Santa Barbara, here, where the peninsula begins to break away from America, here, in the world where we live at the end of the earth, with its climate Mediterranean, only California, San Dieguino. This is the true story of the other river. I was studying it an old book about climate last week in the library, here, across the line, in San Diego, yes U.S. face to face, eyeball to eyeball, see? Here is the floorwalker.
See both sides of the line? This was taken before the year of the great fire left 2003 just was. On the right they let them burn more, for less. Multiple columns combine and separate integrative congniscience. Or: in other words: Studying the picture of this world from space you can see that the river is responsible for opening the valley. The thin white line angling past Zona Rio toward La Mesa is the flood control channel built in the 1970s by the federal (Mexican) government. The dark grey line tracing from Agua Caliente into La Mesa is the intense commercial development following "the boulevard" of Agua Caliente and Diaz Ordaz over to 5&10 "cinco y diez". Spanish leaves the period outside the quote mark so I did break an English rule. The blotch under the letter "C" of "Caliente" is the Club Campestre -- the country club golf course -- which used to belong to the Agua Caliente Hotel/Casino resort (1928-1935).
As Serra saw spiritually and physically this is good ranching and farming country -- the gift of water was truly a blessing we and agriculture was a leading activity in the Tijuana valley -- especially around La Mesa -- up until the mid-20th century when the valley and hills got full of buildings and houses. On both sides of the border the tributaries of the Tijuana river have now been stopped with dams. You can see one of those in the upper right portion of the picture: the reservoir blob to the right again from Cerro Colorado: that is water backed up behind Rodriguez Dam. Furthermore, pumps and wells have sucked much of the ground water right up out of the earth. And here is a picture of your sometime baseball capped servant, Daniel, staring into an old postcard of the dam....
If it weren't for the aqueduct from the Colorado River, we would all die of thirst, like Lost Angels. Unless when they build the "Eductor -- a solar-powered water scheme.... to evaporate water by solar energy from Laguna Salada in the desert and let it run down Valle de Las Palmas to the reservoir, yes.... No, no, it's absolutely true; unbelievable, but true. Of course, it Will Co$t Money to build it and they will come, Yes... ye$. But water is the only real gold around here. You must understand that. That. Thi$.
Nevertheless & whatever, the Tijuana River remains the dominant natural feature of this frontier. It draws the water from the mountains toward the ocean. Its main channel through the city, three channels that finally join together as one, will divide the megalopolis into huge, unequal portions. Roughly 40% of the city, including Libertad, Otay Mesa, Buena Vista, Lagos and El Florido, rises to the east and north of the river valley, while more than 60% of Tijuana, including La Mesa, Agua Caliente, Centro downtown, and the colonias (neighborhoods) of Hipodromo, Chapultepec, Cacho, Juarez, Independencia, Altamira, "la mera" Villa et al, Mexico, Obrera, Linda Vista, Castillo, Soler, Miramar, Mirador and many more all sprawl to the south and west, into the hills and out toward the beaches.
The river (as you can see in the photo of border city) makes an almost 45 degree bend near the borderline, and flows into the swamps and lagoons of what is now (on the U.S. side), the "Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve".
The main border crossing at San Ysidro is the historical place to cross the river, where the streambed was just sandy enough for horses and wagons to get across without sticking in the mud -- not like downstream in the swamps and ocean lagoons.
This crossing place at San Ysidro -- just below the hills -- lies right on the ancient north-south route used by Indians and then Spaniards and Mexicans and Yankees -- that is why the world's busiest border gate is there -- because wagons heading north or south could cross the river best at this spot.
From the border gate, downtown Tijuana is just across the river and about thirteen paragraphs down this page. If you decide to walk, look up from your feet as you cross the pedestrian bridge over the river where that Indian girl screams Cielito Lindo on her broken toy guitar. Surrounded by the smell of sewerage, behold the planet and Tijuana in its ancient valley. Look upriver to your left; you can see the hills rising on both sides of the valley. Those modern buildings upstream are the new (since 1980) Zona Rio. Back to the right, straight ahead by the monumental metal arch (2001-2002), old downtown began just above the river where the floods couldn't reach it.
Originally Tijuana was just that small town you see in this old postcard (from digthatcrazyfarout.com postcard collection thank you), over there across the river. You can see, in the foreground, the old border gate buildings and bushes (that area is still called el chaparal), and then the road leading to the river and toward the old town, proper. If you walk from the border gate, today, you will follow roughly that same route over the pedestrian bridge and up the hill toward 1st & Revolution.
We mentioned in Part I how Tijuana became a tourist destination after the first California land boom and Baja California gold rush in the 1880s, then later went through its own boom in the 1920s. In fact, the postcard painted photograph above of river.town can be dated to no earlier than 1915 or 1917, oweing to the presence of those little round dome-towers — see them there? Little pinkish things to the left of the road coming up from the river? Those are the entrance gate towers to the original "Mexican Fair" which was built to attract visitors down from the Pan-Pacific Exposition in Balboa Park, San Diego, 1915-1916 (that was when they built the first palaces in Balboa). On the right should appear a closer photo of those towers, at the corner of 2nd and Constitution (as it is named now), in the olde towne itself (looks like a dusty place, eh?), across the river. As you can see, the "Mexican Fair" was then transformed into the government office building. They eventually built Tijuana's Old City Hall, which you can still see today (under reconstruction 2004-2005 so you cannot go in, sorry). Corner of 2nd and Constitution midway (1 block each) between the steel arch and Cathedral.
PHILIP: MOVE THIS ENTIRE PARAGRAPH TO THE DOWNTOWN SECTION???
Remember that old dirt road cutting sideways up the hill beyond the bridge? Here's how a piece of that road looked in 2002 toward the millennium arch. This street up from the river pedestrian bridge is now refinished with new street-wide sidewalks for pedestrians-only as part of the redevelopment of the "corredor turistico" to attract more visitors and make the most famous walk in Tijuana, from Revolution Avenue to the border.
Notice that the new (2001) arch is quite a useful landmark, actually, to orient yourself toward the corner of First and Revolution.
Zona Rio -- the River Zone -- is Tijuana's premier urban renewal project from the late 20th century. Technically, the river (see above) is miles long, and includes zones of redevelopment numbered 1, 2, and 3 (actually I, II, and III). But for touristic purposes - and for locals, too (including bus and taxi routes) - the words "Zona Rio" usually mean only zone I. This is the best developed and swankiest part of the river - and the urban showplace of Tijuana. Here you will find numerous excellent restaurants, nightclubs, office buildings and hotels - as well as the most outrageous killings and kidnappings.
The Mercado Hidalgo produce market -- an important stop for many visitors, locals, and travelers -- sits on the downtown side of the Zona. Many knowledgable people come to Tijuana from both sides of the border specifically to enjoy this big market place. It has much more than just produce. Is a real market in the ancient Mexican sense of the word.
Zona Rio begins just south of the international border near the superhighway spaghetti snarl, and stretches over flat ground between two sets of moving hillsides. This pinching of the river between the weathering hills makes the valleys of Tijuana. The outer valley, from downtown to the sea and bay; and the inner valley, now called La Mesa. At the midpoint between inner and outer valleys of the river, you will find the place where Zona Rio turns into Agua Caliente, roughly two miles upstream where the valley and the river make almost a 45-degree bend toward the east and the surrounding hills come very close to the riverbed. Because of this bend of the valley and the encroaching hills, geographically, logically, as well as urbanically and planistically (?), Zona Rio appears to be not just one large coherent area, but two, three, or even four flooding stretches of river valley sand and dirt.
Often "Zona Rio" is mistaken to mean only the downtown side of the river, but it means both sides (of Zone I). On the west shore (the better known side, toward downtown) you will find the big round brown ball -- "la bola" the natives call it (an Omnimax theater) -- and museum/theater spaces of CECUT (Centro Cultural de Tijuana) as well as Plaza Rio Centro Commercial (shopping mall). Both are located along Paseo de los Heroes on either side of Independencia. Mercado Hidalgo sits only a couple blocks away at the corner of Independencia and Sanchez Taboada.
Across the river (on the "other shore") you will find Pueblo Amigo and the municipal and state palaces at the foot of the hills of Libertad. Many important festivals as well as outdoor free concerts are held at the big plaza outside the Palacio Municipal (which has interesting murals inside), while next door, at the Instituto Cultural de Baja California (ICBC), there is a gallery space and small auditorium where art exhibitions are regularly hosted, musical and theatrical performances are staged, and films are screened, usually free. There is also a cafe. In 2003, with the city closing the downtown city gallery, ICBC became suddenly more important as an institutional gallery/cultural space. And that is as far as we will go toward making ANY political comment about that.... *sad wink* ;)
Several automobile and pedestrian bridges connect both sides of the river. Walking here from downtown will take you through the produce and meat/fish market zones. "Zona Rio" is the River Zone, which stretches on either side of the concrete-channeled river. Sometimes people think "Zona Rio" only means the fancy blocks around Cecut, Plaza Rio Shopping Center, numerous nightclubs and restaurants and Mercado Hildalgo produce market on the south side of the river.
Don't forget, however, that across the river on the northeast bank at the foot of Libertad is also part of the old rebuilt river zone. Over there, you will find the "Palacio" -- the city hall and state government buildings, as well as Pueblo Amigo (location of and Ley giant store and Señor Frogs).
A few kilometers farther upstream -- where the river valley splits into two branches -- sits the main bus station -- "Central Camionera" -- beyond Buena Vista, by the bridges crossing over to 5 & 10 in La Mesa.
Numerous automobile bridges cross the river, many leading to and from those marvelous traffic circles with their monument statues. Several pedestrian bridges cross the cement channel -- most important (for tourists) is the pedestrian bridge from the border to downtown. Another convenient pedestrian bridge crosses between Plaza Rio shopping center and the "Palacio" (city hall), but watch out when you go walking, especially at night. Same as anywhere in any world city.
One-way high speed roads -- Via Rapidas -- run beside the river. Via Rapida Oriente heads northbound (toward the border) on the northeast (Libertad/Otay) side, and Via Rapida Poniente runs southbound on the southwest (Cecut) side. If you're driving, these twin roads are the fastest way to get to/from the main bus station or La Mesa.
La Mesa, 5 & 10
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Copyright 2001 Daniel Charles Thomas. Revised: 2002, 2003, 2004.